Three Tracks: 2014

Three tracks that defined my year:

Sun Kil Moon, “Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes”

Chilling, intense. One of the best-ever songs about death of all sorts. “And I remember just where I was/When Richard Ramirez died of natural causes.”

Cloud Nothings, “I’m Not Part of Me”

One of the best shows I saw this year. “I’m learning how to be here and nowhere else.” And: “I’m not! I’m not! You.”

(I included the audio-only YouTube link as the official video is just distracting.)

Spoon, “Do You”

Song of the summer, and it’s been a while since we had one this great. The wistful ending—sort of like the end of summer, come to think of it—puts it over the top. “Do you want to get understood?”

See also Three Tracks: 2013.

Three Tracks: 2013

I had this in mind a year ago, but never got around to posting it (see Three Tracks: 2014). Three tracks that defined my year:

Jon Hopkins, “Open Eye Signal”

The track is a journey, a revelation (and the video is actually pretty great). Saw Hopkins in November (and again in July 2014), and it was brilliant.

The Knife, “A Tooth For An Eye”

It rocks. “I’m telling you stories/Trust me.”

Vampire Weekend, “Ya Hey”

Like a 21st century Paul Simon; the whole album is great. “Who could ever live that way?”

Roger Waters: The Wall Live, Vancouver BC, May 26 2012

I’m not really one for “classic rock.” The genre is still alive and, in 2012, producing music that at some point in the farther future may well considered “classic;” it seems a bit early to be proclaiming music that will stand the test of time. Thirty years is not a long span; we’re still within the lifetime of three of the four musicians who comprised Pink Floyd when The Wall was released in 1979. One of them, Roger Waters, brought a crack band (with no other members of Pink Floyd) and a frankly astonishing stage production to Vancouver a few days ago for a show at BC Place, at which the entire album, originally two LPs, was performed.

In great physical and musical shape at 68—he sings and plays bass—Waters managed to humanize the whole heavy album; he was clearly having a great time. It’s been ages since I heard this music; I was sixteen when it was released, so it brought back a lot of memories. In general Floyd hasn’t aged as well for me as some of the other bands of the era, but there’s some great music here. I was always surprised that critics didn’t seem to notice how the album stood out from the rest of the band’s work: it is not only more musically varied than their three preceding releases, never mind the less conventional work that preceded those, but also has some really tuneful compositions: not just the hit “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” (I prefer parts 1 and 3 myself), but “Mother,” “Hey You” (performed here behind a completed wall so the band was totally hidden), and “Comfortably Numb.” Not to mention a few good rock tunes, “In the Flesh,” “Young Lust” and “Run Like Hell.” And not all the rest is filler. Even “The Trial,” a sort of show tune, worked pretty well as Waters mimed and performed various voices.

The themes of the work have, by Waters’ own admission, been broadened from his own original alienation and dissatisfaction with superstardom, and there were a lot of effective and affecting themes of exploitation and commercialization depicted visually. The sets and visuals are breathtaking. It’s almost impossible to describe in words the scale or indeed the beauty of the sets and in particular the images and animations projected on the wall and on the screen behind it. For once, exorbitant ticket prices seemed justified: it must take an awful lot of people and effort and money to pull this off and cart it around the world.

The crowd seemed a bit less enthusiastic than I would have expected, especially given the quality of the show and performance. But one thing I found interesting was that in the age of the Internet the general population seems better informed than I believe they would have been twenty or thirty years ago: clearly everyone knows who Roger Waters is, while during Pink Floyd’s heyday it would only have been the hardcore fans—like me—who knew the members’ names. If this show returned (I missed it in 2010), I’d go see it again; and I can’t say that for many concerts. On the other hand, I’m not that much more likely to go back to this music regularly now. Even if I still had my vinyl copy from ’79 (sadly, lost in a divorce), I don’t have a record player. But I did call up a few of the tunes on YouTube in the days following the show. At any rate, thank you Roger and all involved for a great night.

Photos © 2012 Stella Regina

Movies 2011

Here’s a list of the movies I saw this past year, sorted by rating (and within rating, just the chronological order in which I saw them). In 2011 I mostly gave up on Hollywood, so I didn’t see as many films as in 2010 as I was sometimes too lazy to walk to Vancity Theatre or Pacific Cinémathèque!

★★★★★ – All-Time Best Movies

2001: a space odyssey, 1968 (trailer): The Granville 7 showed this just once in August and I almost missed it. I hadn’t seen it in a theatre for decades. A movie about the evolution of intelligence, and one of the best ever made in any genre. Doesn’t seem to lose any of its impact over time. I used to wonder why no one seems ever to have attempted anything like it, but when you think about it it’s obvious. Stunning.

★★★★ – Best movies I saw this year

The King’s Speech (trailer): The cynic in me might have found this a little cloying but I was won over. Just very well done and acted and written, and quite endearing.

Small Town Murder Songs (trailer): Underrated outside the indie circuit, this film, very Canadian in a good way, sports a solid story arc supported by a stunning soundtrack and an excellent ensemble. Reminiscent of Cohen Brothers and perhaps Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter.

PJ Harvey – Let England Shake: Not conceived as a movie, perhaps, but I saw all the videos, by Seamus Murphy, presented together at the Vancity Theatre. An already striking record becomes absolutely devastating. The best popular music can still amaze, and these are brilliant pieces of video art. There’s no trailer, but a good sample video would be In the Dark Places, perhaps my favourite track from the album.

Stalker, 1979 (trailer): Not for the meek or easily “bored,” that’s for sure. There is no good way of explaining this movie: it is an exploration that spares no expense in the service of time or “entertainment.” It’s essentially a journey to a mythical place of magic promise and what happens to three people—a guide (the Stalker) and his two charges—along the way. Science fiction/philosophy. Incredibly engaging and absolutely fascinating. I have to see it again.

Melancholia (trailer): I hated a couple of Lars von Trier’s movies of 10-15 years ago (Breaking the WavesDancer in the Dark—though the latter was due partly to my aversion to Bjork) enough that I’d avoided seeing anything since. (I won’t get into his stupid Nazi comments at Cannes.) But this is a masterpiece of characterization, puzzlement, and sci-fi dread done right: simultaneously a bang and a desperate whimper.

Café de flore (trailer): Another movie I have to see again: there’s more here than meets the eye; or maybe I was just too dense to fully grok all the connections the first time through. Even without fully being onside with any supernatural bullshit, this is a great exploration of dealing with just being adrift. And maybe found again, but you’re never really sure.

★★★½ – Definitely worth seeing

  • Blue Valentine (trailer): Excellent tracing of a marriage breakdown.
  • Biutiful (trailer): Slightly disappointing, but I always like Iñárritu‘s style.
  • Win Win (trailer): Great character study. The year’s best closing titles music—The National: Think You Can Wait.
  • Bill Cunningham New York (trailer): Endearing character. Ultimately I’m just not that interested in fashion, so it probably didn’t have the impact it would for those who are.
  • The Miles Davis Story (trailer): Felt a bit cobbled together, which of course it was. But with Miles’ music, there’s a certain quality that is achieved by default.
  • 180º South (trailer): Inspiring adventure movie. I’ve always wanted to go to South America. Perhaps not precisely in this way, but it has its pull.
  • Pianomania (trailer): Fascinating exploration of piano selection, tuning, and repair; but what really makes it stand out is some of the performances.
  • Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love (trailer): Slightly disappointing, perhaps because some of the religion and politics wasn’t of as much interest to me as the—sometimes resulting and related—music. Which is amazing.
  • Drive (trailer): A stylish, ripping crime yarn.
  • Andrew Bird: Fever Year (site): The best music documentary I saw last year. Bird really is brilliant, and this was well put together. I can’t wait to see him when he comes to Vancouver this year.
  • The Descendants (trailer): Represents much of what I think is wrong with Hollywood. Despite its quality, it has a children’s storybook feel: everything is spelled out very carefully, and there are no real subtleties, nothing to think about. I grant it an extra half star for George Clooney’s surprisingly powerful performance in the final hospital scene, in which he says farewell to his comatose and terminal wife, who had been cheating on him.
  • The Artist (trailer): Similar to The Descendants, very straightforward. But also very well put together, and you have to credit all the actors for their silent performances, which must have been very demanding.

★★★ – If you’re bored and you’ve seen the above, rent these

  • Source Code (trailer): Fell flat as a sort of sci-fi Groundhog Day, perhaps because even within its genre it simply wasn’t believable.
  • Foo Fighters: Back and Forth (trailer): The first film I rented on my iPad. It’s a shallow and uncritical overview of the band’s history, as it’s told by the band. I’m not sure why I have an occasional attraction to their music. Perhaps it’s what Pitchfork said: the Foo Fighters are “excellent at being mainstream.”
  • Die Stille for Bach (The Silence Before Bach) (scene): Manages, somehow, to make Bach boring, despite a few good performances.
  • Take Shelter (trailer): Docked half a star for its pat ambiguous final scene. Good performances but it falls apart a bit.

★★ – Please promise me you won’t see even if you’re curious

Percival Archie Corry (In Memory Of)

Last summer, Radiohead‘s Harry Patch (In Memory Of)—download it here—got me thinking about my great uncle Percival Archie Corry, who was killed in Belgium in December 1915 fighting in the First World War. I remember him every November 11, but there is something about this track that evokes the time: I think the instrumentation, composition, and arrangement are something that my grandmother Kathleen, Perce’s brother, would recognize and appreciate.

About ten years ago, I put together a genealogy of my grandmother’s family. She had eight siblings, and the long-term impact of war was made clear: the others had descendants, marriages, jobs, and stories. Perce’s page in the book was a dead end. Here are a couple of pictures of him, one on the family farm outside of Victoria, clearing land for the B.C. Electric power line; the other obviously in preparation for the trip to Europe, from which he never returned.


The genealogy included the following text by Jean Rathgaber, daughter of Perce’s brother Art.

When the news was announced that Canada had entered into the war, Kath [my grandmother] and Babe were outside discussing it. They heard a whooping and a hollering, and Perce, on horseback, came dashing toward them as fast as he could gallop, shouting and waving his arms. He swerved at the last minute, just missing them, and yelled, “Hooray! War!” He and his brothers thought the war would be a great adventure; all three enlisted and were sent overseas. … The great adventure did not turn out as they had expected. George returned from the war with a steel plate in his head which caused him head pains all his life. Art returned with stomach ulcers caused from being gassed. For the rest of his life, he could tolerate only bland foods like milk, puddings and porridge made with milk. He never complained about this diet and lived on it for 40 years. And sadly, Perce never returned at all.

It’s tempting to think Perce’s romanticization of war is of another era, but I suspect that’s not completely the case.

I am going to work on updating the history for a reunion this summer, and one of the things I have found is Percival Corry’s attestation papers, online at Library and Archives Canada.


It’s striking to see these papers, signed by an eighteen-year-old destined to die in the Great War almost a century ago. It’s possible to order copies of a soldier’s service files, which aren’t posted online, and I plan to do that to see what other information is available on Percival Corry.

I am the only one that got through
The others died where ever they fell
It was an ambush
They came up from all sides
Give your leaders each a gun and then let them fight it out themselves
I’ve seen devils coming up from the ground
I’ve seen hell upon this earth
The next will be chemical but they will never learn

—Radiohead, adapted from a BBC interview with Harry Patch, one of the last surviving veterans of the First World War

Radiohead: In Rainbows

In Rainbows coverIt’s been about 20 hours since I downloaded “In Rainbows,” Radiohead’s latest. I have probably listened to the whole thing about six times now, and several tracks more than that.

Radiohead is the sort of band that almost begs superlatives. Perhaps it’s that they’re the only and obvious heirs to the Pink Floyd – Kate Bush continuum that many of us cling to (disclaimer: Floyd mostly leaves me cold 20-30 years on; and Kate mostly disappointed me with “Aerial” a couple of years ago). I was going to write a review of “Hail To The Thief,” Radiohead’s 2004 and most recent release, but never got to it. The gist of my review was to be the “Buddy Holly test,” that is, what would Holly think? And ultimately, I think he would have recognized and approved of the rollicking despair of tracks like “There There.”

Well, I’m really not sure what Buddy Holly’s reaction would be to “In Rainbows.” I tend to think it would be both strong approval and a sort of astonishment at where the music has gone. Both positives. Call me hopelessly devoted, but to these still-fresh ears this collection of tracks sounds like the best this band has released since the fabled “OK Computer.” All are good; “Bodysnatchers,” “Nude,” and “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” are really striking; but “Reckoner” and “House of Cards” are otherworldly recordings from this world, at once transcending Radiohead’s previous heights and consolidating all the band’s strengths. This is the collection of songs I think many of us were hoping for but having trouble imagining following Amnesiac. “HTTT” was great but a holding pattern. This is Radiohead’s next great leap forward, as “Kid A” was, in that they have finally fused their brilliant melodies with their sonic experiments in a way that is not only cohesive but something new.

Today there are no other bands. There are no other albums. When I listen to Radiohead, I often think of the ending of Vikram Seth’s “An Equal Music”:

“Music, such music, is a sufficient gift. Why ask for happiness; why hope not to grieve? It is enough, it is to be blessed enough, to live from day to day and to hear such music — not too much or the soul could not sustain it — from time to time.”

Thom Yorke: The Eraser

I have a theory about this CD: it represents ideas Thom Yorke brought to the Radiohead table that were rejected by the band (including, perhaps, Yorke himself) in favour of going back to the drawing board, and/or better demos from the singer, along with ideas from his bandmates. Although “solo” projects often signal a dilution of energy for bands, this bodes very well for the next full band effort. The better parts of “The Eraser” remind me of nothing so much as pretty much what I would have expected from the next Radiohead album, sans band. In other words, I get my pseudo-Radiohead fix (especially from “The Eraser,” “Analyse,” “The Clock,” “Harrowdown Hill,” and “Cymbal Rush”) and look forward to a new band release hopefully within a year or so. (Where I agree particularly with Pitchfork is that Jonny Greenwood’s Bodysong is a better listen.)